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Hundreds gather at fundraiser to honor memory of Marine Michael LiCalzi, who died in Iraq

Members of the 2nd Marine Division, 2nd Tank

Members of the 2nd Marine Division, 2nd Tank Battalion run on the beach during the the 6th annual Beach Run & Walk in honor of Marine 1st Lt. Michael LiCalzi, held at Lido West Beach, Saturday, May 9, 2015. Credit: Steve Pfost

Hundreds ran and walked a 2-mile course in Lido Beach Saturday, paying homage to a fallen Marine who some never knew, but whose ultimate sacrifice has helped others years after his death.

Amid misting rain, more than 450 at Lido West Town Park honored the memory of 1st Lt. Michael LiCalzi, a Garden City native, surfer and Chaminade High School grad who died in Iraq in May 2006 when his tank flipped off a bridge into a canal.

"While his sacrifice was tragic and will never be forgotten, this . . . will stand as a testament to his life," said Hempstead Town Councilman Anthony J. Santino, adding that the town plans to continue co-hosting the Beach Run & Walk, now in its sixth year and which raises funds in LiCalzi's memory.

LiCalzi, 24, drowned in the tank with three others in the U.S. Marine Corps 2nd Tank Battalion, 2nd Marine Division: Cpl. Steve Vahaviolos, 21, of upstate Airmont; and Lance Cpls. Jason K. Burnett, 20, of St. Cloud, Florida, and David Grames Sanchez, 22, of Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Michael's father, Gregory LiCalzi, 63, of Celebration, Florida, read an excerpt from President Theodore Roosevelt's famous speech "The Man in the Arena," which LiCalzi said embodies Marine traits. "The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood . . . who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly," he said.

Gregory LiCalzi and his son, Gregory LiCalzi Jr., 33, of Manhasset, founded Ace in the Hole Foundation, co-host of the event, to support charitable organizations, especially those benefiting Marines and their families. Since 2008, it has donated more than $430,000.

About 65 Marines from Camp Lejeune in North Carolina also attended the event.

Maj. Gen. Brian Beaudreault, who commands the 2nd Marine Division, told the runners, "We all wouldn't be here today if it wasn't for the courage, sacrifice, the dedication of Marines" like the four who died. "We never forget," he said.

That was heartening to Jason Burnett's parents -- Shelly and Ron Burnett of St. Cloud. "Everybody goes on with their everyday lives, but you know, they'll never be forgotten," said Shelly Burnett, 57, wiping away tears.

The foundation this year made $5,000 donations to Oliver's Hope, dedicated to the care of Oliver Miller, 15, of Atlantic Beach, whose stroke in utero causes daily seizures, and to a charity that helps injured Marines in Camp Lejeune.

Vicky and Gus Vahaviolos, parents of Steve Vahaviolos, chose the latter, calling the recognition bittersweet.

"You appreciate the honor, but then you have the feelings that he's not here," said Vicky Vahaviolos, 55, of Airmont. "But it's an honor . . . because these people lost their son, too . . . we're family."

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